In December 2015 Secretary of Defense Ash Carter announced that all military training, occupations, and units will be open to women to include those found within the special operations forces. (1). Early in 2015 female volunteers were selected to attend the Army’s Ranger School. The first class started in April 2015 with 19 female students. Of the 19, three graduated – after having been recycled through phases a few times. In November 2015 the first officially integrated Ranger class started with five females – all failing in the first week. Did the women have to meet the same standards as men? It is doubtful that MG Scottie Miller (of JSOC fame), the commander of the Maneuver Center of Excellence at Fort Benning, would let the women perform to lower standards. The graduation of the three women likely helped pave the way for later decisions about integrating women into SOF.
The United States Special Operations Command (USSOCOM) is ‘all in’ on the concept of women attending special operations training and being assigned to special operations units. In fact, on the same day that SECDEF Carter released his directive in December the commander of USSOCOM, General Joseph Votel (another JSOC alumni), released a video expressing support for the decision (2).
How do the special operators in JSOC, the SEALs, AFSOC, and in U.S. Army Special Forces feel about the decision? According to a RAND Corporation study that USSOCOM commissioned 85% of the rank and file said it was a bad idea. (3). Resistance to the concept centered primarily on the physical demands that SOF operators must endure during combat. While SOF operators were receptive to women in SOF in an enabler role there was great resistance to women as an integral part of a SOF operational team.
In 2013 the Army conducted a survey of women from the reserve and active duty components on their feelings toward entering the combat arms. Of the 30,000 who responded less than 8% said they would want to be in an infantry, armor, artillery, or combat engineer job. (4). While females now have the opportunity to attend these demanding SOF schools there probably isn’t a large number that wish to attend.